There are two elements to the chemical weapons (CW) and precursors coming out of Syria, hopefully in the next few days. The first element is the most toxic and includes 30 metric tons of mustard gas, the only weaponized CW in the ‘declared’ Assad stockpile and 600 metric tons of A and B precursors–you mix A and B together to get nerve agents like sarin. Of this, 150 metric tons of B precursors will go direct to the UK where they’ll be destroyed at commercial facilities at Southampton or Ellesmere Port by incineration. The remainder 530 metric tons will go to the US military ship MV Cape Ray, which should be at an as-yet-undisclosed Italian port by early February 14. The mustard gas and precursors will be ‘hydrolyzed’ adding lots of water and other chemicals on the MV Cape Ray. This will produce a fairly benign ‘toxic sludge’, of about 7 million liters which will then be transported to a commercial facility to be incinerated.
The second element is about 700 metric tons of less toxic precursors which will be transported to commercial facilities around the globe to be incinerated. The OPCW is organizing and verifying all this activity and is currently working on commercial bids to destroy the second elements of the CW stockpile. The cost is difficult to gauge but overall it is likely to be in excess of $100m. However, the biggest challenge is getting the CW and precursors to the Port of Latakia on the Syrian coast to be picked up by Scandinavian cargo ships guarded by Russian, Chinese, Norwegian, Danish and British warships. This phase is well behind schedule as the route to the port goes through a number of areas controlled by the Opposition and the Syrian regime appears to be dragging its feet with this part of the operation. Everything must be complete by June 2014, which is a very sporting timeline.